By Hassan Ibrahim Conteh
A leading international child rights organization, Save the Children, has engaged some community stakeholders on the need to respect “girls child” decisions about their life especially on pregnancy and marriage matters.
The engagement was part of Save the Children’s project implementation entitled, “My Body, My Decision, My Rights” held at Saint Joseph’s Primary School hall in Joe Town, on Monday October 19th.
“It is the girls’ rights to make decision about their body. Such decisions must not be infringed upon by parents or community stakeholders or any other person.” explained Saidu Kamara, Save the Children’s community mobilization officer.
The project focuses on adolescents, parents, community stakeholders and government to enable boys and girls to make decisions on their own future and to fulfill their equal human rights.
It seeks to address issues of gender inequality and to ensure that alternative opportunities are more accessible and meaningful for girls.
Kamara advised parents and community members to voluntarily offer two (2) save space locations, serving as “centres”, for adolescent boys and girls, where they could regularly meet to discuss issues about their situation.
“There should be “in school and out school safe space locations” he said. He advised that: “The one space centre should be provided by the school authorities and must be within the school environment and the other safe space should be provided by the community.”
Kamara said the “safe spaces” would be headed by “focal persons” selected by community members on a voluntarism basis.
“The focal person of each safe centre will be trained on handling pregnancy and marriage issues. The places must be comfortable for young adolescent girls and boys to meet and discuss.” said Kamara.
The project is supported by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). It targets 6,000 girls and 4,500 boys within fifteen (15) communities in the Western Area Rural district. “My Body; My Decision; My Rights” is a three (3) year project which is expected to end February 2023.
It is hoped that the project will provide empowerment to very young adolescents (10-14 years) and older adolescents (13- 18 years) boys and girls to make informed decisions about marriage and pregnancy, strengthen child rights policies, provide conducive social environment.
The project will also help to strengthen institutional environment at the national and sub- national levels to accelerate actions on gender equality and the prevention of all forms of discrimination against girls. Kamara said the “safe spaces” must serve as structures for children’s building capacity.
He said earlier surveys conducted by Save the Children indicated that most parents lure their children (girls) to early marriage without their consent.
He said they have observed that teenage pregnancy leads to increase in infant mortality, poverty, post -natal health problems which affect children’s ‘speedy intelligence’ in school. “Some children have speed to learn but due to parents poor settlements and other problems they become drop out which adds to the poverty rate in the country.” Kamara said. “Let us discourage them from getting marriage” he added.
To ensure sustainability of the project and community ownership, Kamara said positions such as gender champions, mothers and fathers club, safe space facilitators and project advisory committee would be set up, adding that those occupying the relevant positions within the community would be trained by officials of Save the Children.
Such people will be trained in a bid to changing people’s perception about early marriage and pregnancy.
“This is your community so you need to serve it as a ‘pay back’ as there will be no remuneration. It is just community voluntarism. But Save the children will help to renovate and refurbish places chosen for ‘safe spaces'” he disclosed. He said, part of the project is to also train nurses on “patients’ confidentiality” which he cited as a major issue which often prevent some patients from expressing their problems.
Save the children was established in London in 1919 with special focus to improving the lives of children. The NGO, which is operating in 120 countries around the world, has been providing assistance in education, health and emergency support in disaster struck and war-torn countries.